Lucy’s Temple

Not all temples are made of stone. Lucy’s temple, the one she prayed and sacrificed in, was made of a few stout and sturdy cardboard boxes that she’d pulled apart and made into walls that surrounded her shrine. The shrine itself was a dirty old plastic milk crate that someone had drawn a few rude pictures on. But Lucy thought that made it rather more authentic. After all, the old Greek and Roman gods were always naked and rather naughty, weren’t they?
The best thing about her temple was that it was moveable. She could pack it into her rickety shopping cart whenever she decided to move her camp to somewhere else. The cart was filled with the other essentials of her life – some extra clothing for the colder weather, a few emergency Twinkies that she kept for the worst nights when she hadn’t managed to get any money for food, and, of course, her box of treasures and sacrifices.
The box held her most prized possessions besides the temple and shrine. She never showed anyone what was in there, not even Dumbo, the large-eared man who she encountered on most days, feebly playing his trumpet for the passersby. He was her best friend on the street, and they would often share things with each other – their food, their drugs, and occasionally, when the mood struck them, their bodies as well.
When Lucy woke up on this Sunday morning, she realized that she hadn’t seen Dumbo in a while. Not since she’d constructed her shrine and her temple. She wanted to share them with him, because she thought that he would understand and that he would see exactly what it was that she was worshiping. Other people had laughed at her, and she ignored them easily enough – living on the street was an education in ignoring and being ignored – but she wanted to show someone the magic she’d discovered and cultivated in her collapsible temple.
She decided that, since it was sunny and warm, she should go and look for him. She didn’t find him in any of the usual spots – he wasn’t at any of the subway stops that he frequented, nor was he in the parks that were friendly to the homeless population of the city. The last place she looked was at the soup kitchen that neither one of them went to very often, but he wasn’t there either. The proprietress of the place tried to wave Lucy in and yelled out a few times for her to join the line and get some food, but Lucy smiled her semi-toothed smile and shook her head. She didn’t like being somewhere with so many people.
When the sun began to set and she still hadn’t found Dumbo, Lucy realized with a jolt what she had to do. She took her shopping cart back to the alleyway she’d spent her nights in over the last week and began to set up her shrine and the temple. She opened her box of treasures and ran her fingers around it, feeling the bits and pieces of her favorite things as they seemed to nuzzle against her, almost sentient. It was as if they were assuring her that she was loved by them and that they appreciated her taking as good care of them as she did.
She pulled out a piece of red string and held it up to the light that came from the lamp-post at the far end of the alleyway. It was still clean and shiny. She pulled a small pack of matches from her pocket and placed the string on her shrine. Lighting it on fire, she watched the smoke curl into the air of the temple and she began to pray. She prayed to the gods to find Dumbo and bring him to her, but she also prayed to them to keep him safe even if he didn’t come to find her.
She could feel them responding to her. She could feel Dumbo coming closer to her. She could smell him getting closer to her. Sure enough, as her lips finished mumbling the last words of her prayer, Dumbo ducked under the walls of temple and caused them to sway precariously. He knelt beside Lucy and watched her curiously. His long dreadlocks were tied in a tight knot at the nap of his neck and his beard was scraggly and dirtier than ever.
Lucy moved a little so that he could be more comfortable. “This is my shrine,” she said. Dumbo nodded. “I know,” he said. “I could tell.” He closed his eyes, put his hands together, and they began to pray together. Lucy was pleased. She knew that Dumbo would understand.

Homeless with a Hamster

High Priest Jonas, son of Azekial, of the long-standing Levi line, looked exactly like any other homeless man wandering about the streets of the capital city. Unlike them, however, he carried in his heart the knowledge of his noble lineage.

He walked through the alleyways of stone and dirt every day, and watched the washing hung out to dry between the windows of the buildings on either side of him. He counted socks, shirts and pants and tried to figure out how many people lived in each apartment. Sometimes he sat under a washing line and let the water from badly wrung clothing drip onto his dirty green coat and his matted and tangled brown hair. He liked that, because it meant he walked around for the rest of the day with the smell of laundry detergent mixed in with the alcohol, body odor and bad breath that surrounded him.

He couldn’t clearly remember where he’d been before the street. He thought that there was a home, maybe a job and a family as well. He distinctly remembered there being a lot of wine. Much more wine than he was able to put his hands on these days.

The problem with Jonas, the other homeless agreed, was that he thought himself superior. None of the others were strangers to madness – they’d all had brushes with the crazies or else had gone through insane phases themselves, but none of them tried to pretend that they were better than anyone else. But Jonas turned his nose up at them. He’d tried, at first, to teach them, to collect followers, but once they told him to go away, using nasty vocabulary, he decided that they weren’t worth his time.

Jonas didn’t see things this way. In his opinion, the ones who shared the city-streets with him had hurt his pride and mocked him, and for that he would never forgive them. Maybe one day, if they would deign to apologize, he would acknowledge them and help them to salvation.

Meanwhile, however, he’d found himself a different companion. Bobo, a hamster in a green cage, was beside him day and night. He was a stalwart friend – his nose quivered in anticipation whenever Jonas gave him food and he would emit high-pitched squeaks of satisfaction when the man tickled his stomach. Jonas was pleased with him.

One evening in October, the High Priest took Bobo to one of his favorite haunts. It was one of the coffee-shop chains that filled the city streets, but unlike many others, there weren’t waiters. Instead, people ordered their coffee inside and then took their mugs to the outdoor seating area when the weather was nice or if they were smokers. The staff rarely came outside to collect the dirty dishes, so Jonas could sit at a table all evening without being shooed off the premises.

“Look, Bobo,” he grinned, broken teeth bared. “This is a nice table, right? A nice table.” He put the cage down and sat on a red plastic chair. His coat was bulky and uncomfortable and the table rocked as he hit it with his knee. Instinctively, he shot out an arm to hold the cage steady. Bobo sniffed his thanks, directing his tiny nose at Jonas’ hand.

He scoped out the area around him. There was a bar behind him, small and tucked into a crevice of the little complex. In front of him were other tables and chairs like his, with people sitting at them. He saw that none of his enemies were there and breathed a sigh of relief. He could work in peace. He crooned once at Bobo before taking out paper and a stubby bit of pencil.

He leaned forward and began to write. The people who sat around him watched him warily, like they watched all homeless men and women who came too close to their comfy worlds. Jonas didn’t mind – he knew that they watched him merely because they were drawn to his nobility. Even if they didn’t know it, they were dimly aware of the majesty that was in his tall, wide frame. He pretended not to notice their staring and continued writing, working as always on his lists and his plans.

“Mommy, mommy, there’s a homeless man with a hamster!” a little boy’s voice rang out.

“Shh!” the boy’s father picked him up and carried him away, glancing back fearfully to make sure that the boy’s yell hadn’t angered the man.

Jonas frowned sadly, but the boy’s father couldn’t see the expression through his wild, tangled beard.

“Yes, I have a hamster,” Jonas said quietly, looking down at Bobo. “He is my friend.”

 

Ethan

It seemed that no matter how his hair fell, he looked fabulous. If it was in his eyes, it looked boyish. If it was curled up a bit, it looked sexy. If it was cut short, it showed off his perfect forehead. That was the kind of man-boy he was. He could wear whatever he wanted, and did. Anything from black boots, black jeans and a biker jacket to a waistcoat, pinstriped pants and loafers. In his pocket, you could easily find either a pack of cigarettes or a watch on a chain. If all that weren’t enough, he also projected his comfort and self-esteem and acceptance of who he was. His presence was enough to make anyone weak-kneed, men and women alike. He wasn’t even twenty yet.

He stood smoking outside of his apartment building. As I walked by, he looked up at me, and I saw that his eyes were wet, on the verge of spilling tears. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “Ethan? You alright?”

He mutely offered me a cigarette, lit it for me, and leaned back against the brick wall, one leg going up to prop himself. He was wearing his black boots, I noticed. I stood beside him, puffing away, feeling more intimate with him than I ever had before, despite being his neighbour for over six months, and despite us having many mutual friends. It seemed that I saw him all the time – around the building, at clubs and pubs. He was a fixture of the Soho night-life, and I often found myself dancing just a few people away from him. It wasn’t that he was a snob, exactly. He wasn’t posh, his father didn’t go to Eton and he hadn’t even finished university. He was just a regular bloke like me. Of course, I couldn’t pull off half the image he had, but then, that’s me.

“Boyfriend,” he sighed. He took a last drag and then threw the butt down. He stomped on it with a force that made me shiver a little. He looked at me, and I think I must have looked a little guilty, since his eyes flashed from heartbroken to angry to resigned in quick succession. “You knew?” He’d already ducked his head, pulling out another cigarette from his pack.

I couldn’t deny it, but I didn’t want to let him in on the fact that, well, we all knew. We all thought he knew it, too. We’d seen them together almost every night of the past few months, but we all knew. The boyfriend lived in Manchester, only came to London every month or two. He’d been over just three weeks ago. So, obviously, we all thought that Ethan knew.

“Sorry, mate.”

He shook his head. His hair flopped, looking perfect no matter what he did. That hair, that hair that my eyes always fixated on, it was still as glossy, as perfect, as natural as it always was. But the rest of him… Well. For the first time since I’d met him, I wasn’t intimidated.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked. I knew it didn’t matter one whit, but I asked anyway.

“February. February 9th, ’88. Why?”

“No reason. You’re two days younger than me. I always thought you were older than me. Never mind. Come upstairs, come on, I’ll make you some tea and we can watch whatever football game is one tonight, right?”

He chucked his smoke way across the street so it hit the building across and a little spray of sparks shone red-hot before falling to the ground. Brushing a hand through his hair, he followed me into the building.

Back!

I’m back in Israel, land of Jews, Jesus and Jonflicts [because “conflict” doesn’t start with a “J”].

I took over a thousand photographs during my two-week visit to Los Angeles – something I’ve never done before. I never was a photographing kind of person, but I had a camera of my very own that I received for my nineteenth birthday, and I decided to finally use it properly. Plus, this way I’ll be able to show Sir B. F. some of the City of Angels’ marvels. I know they may not seem so special to many people, but the fact is that I grew up in a country where the architecture of choice for apartment buildings seems to be concrete boxes on concrete pillars, naked of any ornament or exterior decor. The houses in Los Angeles are like looking at the window of a candy store for me – each is more beautiful than the next. This is excluding the many monstrosities, of course.

Can you tell I’m jet-lagged? I sure can. Whenever my mind is confused about what time zone it’s in, I begin rambling, words tumbling out too fast for anyone around me to make the connections between subjects that are perfectly clear in my overdriven thoughts. Which is why I’m now going to post a photograph, and shut up. Starting tomorrow, I’ll try very hard to get back to my schedule of writing every day, and writing fiction, poems or at least more coherent ramblings. See? I said I’d shut up, but here I am, still a-writing. Okay, here we go – photo:

4. Marty and Claire [2]

Claire dug out some clothing from the big suitcase that sat beside the mattress on her floor. She hurriedly threw on her usual baggy jeans, a big “I Love NY” t-shirt that used to belong to her mom, and shoved her feet into her tattered Converse high-tops. Back in the kitchen, Marty had found a paper and pen in his breifcase and handed her a list with some essential groceries before giving her a few twenty-dollar bills.

“If it’s too much or too heavy, call me and I’ll come help out with the carrying home, okay? Got your cell? Your new keys? Okay, Honey, see you soon.”

“Bye, Dad,” Claire skipped out the door and locked it behind her with a resounding ‘click’ as the bolts fell into place. Marty sighed just a little. This is why you moved, he reminded himself, to feel that she was safe.

Also, so she could be close to her grandparents. Marty hadn’t told Mr. and Mrs. Adams yet about the move. It had been rather hasty, and he wanted to surprise them. He wasn’t sure yet about how Claire felt about being reunited with them – after all, the last time she’d seen them, she was ten. Now she was just fourteen, which seemed to Marty to be miles away from the sweet and innocent little girl she’d been. As he began to dig in another box for cutlery to arrange in a drawer, Marty thought of the last couple years and the gaping hole that was Susan’s absence in their lives. Claire had gotten her period, had bought her first bra, had started eying boys – all without a mother to help her through it. Marty did the best he could, trying to be the hip dad, the cool dad that girls could talk to. He felt he’d succeeded, more or less, since Claire and he were on good terms and she wasn’t embarrassed around him about the changes her body was going through. But still, he always felt inadequate. Susan would have done things better, he felt.

As Marty indulged himself in nostalgia and meloncholy, Claire took in the bright and beautiful sunshine that made Victoria Road, their new street, seem to glimmer. The neighborhood sure was lovely, she couldn’t deny that. There were trees planted in the sidewalk every few yards and the apartment buildings all had expanses of lawn or flowerbeds in front of them. A warm breeze warmed her face, and she noticed the pleasant sound of the leaves rusteling.

It’s so quiet, she thought. Certainly different from Manhattan. As Claire walked down Victoria Road, only two cars drove by. It seemed unthinkable to have so little traffic after the constant rush-hour that permeated the streets of New York. She liked it very much, she decided. As she turned from Victoria Road to Brushfield Street, she saw her target, Bill’s, the little grocery store that she and her dad had marked last night while driving the U-Haul. She took the list out of her pocket and entered the store.

___ Drive: An Essay

This was the essay I submitted to the University of Chicago. It’s more of a creative writing piece than an essay, though, which is why I decided to share it here.

Nestled in the gorgeous hills of the city called Los Angeles, there is a street. It is a pretty street, suburban and colorful. It is called ____ Drive.
Many of the houses on ____ Drive are rather old, though you wouldn’t guess it by looking at them. In the fifties, all the houses were new and pristine, perfect little packages of suburbia. Young couples or families just beginning their lives moved onto the street, and made it what it really became – a homey, beautiful, precious place to live.
The street starts out with a wide bend, curving off the main street that leads up the hill. There is a store there, right near the corner, ridiculously overpriced and adorable, all brown wood on the outside and the good smell of bread and snacks on the inside. For me, that’s where the street really starts, at that store.
Right on the bend into the actual street, there is a single, solitary apartment building. It’s been renovated so many times over the years that it never seems to actually house anyone at any given time. After the building, the street starts proper, with a dip down straight off, houses looking crooked on both sides. There aren’t any sidewalks on the street – for why would there be? This is LA, the city of cars – and so you always need to be careful to walk against traffic, along the side of the road.
Every house on the street is different than its neighbor. There are no two alike, not even a little – each has its own unique brick patterns on the outside, its own colorful or bare garden, its tree or its bushes or its roses, the swing next to this house and the bench in front of that one. This one has a porch, the next might have a wildflower garden, and the next might have a collection of stones in front of it. Some of the houses are memorable, and some aren’t.
Although time has been kind to most of the houses on the street and they still look classic and well-tended, some newer families have moved onto the street and they decided that the houses they bought were too small. So what did they do? Why, what any upper-class family trying to live the American dream would do. They tore down the old, endearing, family-sized house, and built large concrete monstrosities with four garages and five stories, and park their Hummers on the street, because apparently the kids need the garages.
Still, if one can ignore those places, which stick out like sore thumbs, the street is one of beauty and tranquility. On Sunday mornings the grandkids come visit and ride their little tricycles in the driveways. Their parents sit back indulgently, speaking of times when they were that little with their own parents, the inhabitants of the street. On most other mornings, you will see sixty- and seventy-year olds walking briskly up and down the street with their usually-outdated portable music players, or maybe you’ll see them driving to work in suits and ties, with hair and mustaches sleeked.  You’ll see the younger families carpooling to work with their children bouncing in the back seat, watching Spongebob Squarepants on their portable DVD players.
The afternoons on ____ Drive will be quiet, people napping, resting, doing homework, relaxing and giving themselves alone time, swimming in their pools by the light of the setting sun and its reflection on the water. Occasionally the sound of a helicopter will break the peace of the quiet afternoon, but more often than not the street will be serene, almost eerily so.

So, the days. The nights are different. The nights might be noisier, as one house or another is bound to be having a dinner-party, a birthday, a casual get-together, a wild night of drinking in the house where the parents have gone on vacation. Even when it’s quiet, the patches of yellow glow from the windows cast a pretty light up and down the street. Everyone remembers dutifully to turn on the garden lamps as well, so as to help drivers coming down the road to see well.
There are walkers at night too, of course – the people with their music players, all bundled up now because of the cool, crisp mountain air. It is always cool at night up there, even during the height of summer. Some nights it’s foggy, making the air smell deliciously damp, like being in a real cloud.
If you walk down the street very late at night, it will be quite dark. Although many people leave their garden lamps on, their light is dim, especially at that hour of the night. Coyotes and raccoons often roam the street, the raccoons even opening garbage cans to rummage inside, and deer creep into the backyards to eat the flowers or drink from the pools. The man with the hybrid wolves will be walking down the road, taking them for their walk when the fewest people are around. The wolves are part dog apparently, but they look fearsome, even though they’re muzzled, and their size, their ice-blue eyes, and the ample amount of spiky grey fur on them isn’t very reassuring, though beautiful to look at.

There are two things that make ____ Drive the most wonderful, beautiful, splendid street in the world for me. The first is what you will see if you walk down to the very end, at night. Once upon a time, when I was very small, there was no gate there. There was just a long, long driveway, leading down to the biggest, ugliest house of all that sat alone on a huge plot of land, surrounded by out of place palm-trees and odd gazebos. Now, the house is the same, but there is also a gate before the driveway, a big black gate.
Still, nothing, not even the gate, can ruin that spot. You can stand there and see the whole of Los Angeles spread out before you, all twinkling lights. The lights are arranged in grids, little squares of suburbia similar to the one you’re standing in. It’s an astounding sight, awe-inspiring, especially when the air is clear and you can truly see so far. It is just a blanket of endless fairy lights, all seeming so happy.
The second reason for this street’s splendor is the fact that it was the center of my visits to the US all through my childhood; it was where my beloved maternal grandparents’ home was. The memories of it are now bittersweet. I will probably never venture up there again, as my grandparents have both passed away and we’ve sold their gorgeous, comfy house. Still, I will always and forever remember every detail of the street and its atmosphere, both with the sweetness and innocence of my childhood days there and with the cynicism of my older state today.

A Painting of Marie

The painting was by an artist whose name I don’t remember. I never looked at the name of the painting. I don’t remember what gallery it was in, nor what country the gallery was in. I don’t even remember how old I was when I saw it, only that it had to have been in the last few years. Still, despite all this, the painting is clear in my mind’s eye as if it were hanging in my room.

In the painting sits a girl. She looks like she’s in her early teens, just blossoming into womanhood. She is sitting on a nondescript and unimpressive wooden chair, and the backdrop behind her is just a gloomy sort of brown. It’s unclear where she is, nor why she is sitting down. I named her Marie.

Marie has skin the color of milk chocolate- dark, but not very. Her hair, black as coal but looking a little matted, is tumbling around her shoulders, though I get the impression that it’s normally pinned in a quick bun and has only just tumbled down. Her lips are red and full, and she’s not really smiling, nor is she frowning. She’s simply gazing into space, not focused on the viewer of the painting but rather seems to be looking right over your shoulder, at someone behind you. Her eyes are a wonderful dark brown and seem intelligent but tired.

She’s wearing a blue dress with a white apron over it. She looks like she could be a maid, or perhaps a shop-girl sometime in the 1700s in the United States. For some reason, I feel like she’s a dweller of New Orleans, and I can picture her running barefoot through the dusty streets, maneuvering herself between pirates, privateers, salesmen and prostitutes.

Her hands are folded on her lap, and it looks like they’re not used to being idle in this manner. They look rough and work-weary, just like her.

When I saw Marie, I sat before her for maybe an hour, maybe more, just looking at her. I wanted to speak to her, hear her thoughts and dreams, laugh with her, walk down the streets of her life with her. But she stayed in her painting, caught forever by an artist in this one moment of repose.